Mohamed Kamal

CEO and Cofounder of Unbias

I invite you to explore an unconventional perspective on competing and achieving success, inspired by Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball” approach and how it translates from the artist’s point of view.

“Moneyball,” both a book and a movie, highlighted the innovative use of statistics, specifically Sabermetrics, by Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland Athletics, to overcome their budgetary constraints.

Another written piece by Lewis in 2009 profiled basketball player Shane Battier of the Houston Rockets on the New York Times. Battier didn’t possess spectacular stats or play with remarkable flamboyance, but his presence on the court invariably increased his team’s chances of victory.

Battier stood out due to his methodical approach. When Battier guarded Kobe Bryant, arguably the league’s best player, the Lakers’ offensive efficiency was worse than if Bryant wasn’t playing at all. An unexpected result emerged from conventional statistics and game understanding, not advanced AI or sophisticated analytics – Battier, an average player by most standards, managed to neutralize a basketball legend.

In this context, data is major a competitive advantage that is effectively used.

Common wisdom suggests competition makes us sharper, or more disciplined. You might think there’s no competition because you’re unique. But what if the competition involves listener attention, especially against superstars?

Economist Jennifer Brown found an intriguing pattern of psychological intimidation among professional golfers when competing against Tiger Woods. His mere presence negatively affected the performances of fellow top-ranked players, a phenomenon Brown attributed to his superstar status.

This suggests that the artist you admire may themselves be struggling with their own competition and intimidation from others. Consequently, it’s not always the loudest, most original, or most viral artist who breaks into the major genres and rises to the top. Success might lie in understanding the industry’s subtle dynamics, identifying gaps, and positioning oneself advantageously.

An example of this is by looking at how Spotify classifies sub-genres, which act like small cultural markets. Sites like this can help categorize these. If you’re an artist or supporting an artist, look your name up and see what sub-genre you’re in. You’ll notice similar artists and similar sub-genres. Listen to their music, their videos, and observe their streaming numbers. Are you competing in a market that’s crowded or capped at a certain performance level? Is there a significant disparity in success between mainstream and developing artists in your sub-genre? These could be the ‘gaps’—areas of opportunity or underserved niches—that you can strategically target to set yourself apart.

My key takeaways are:
A) Artists often view competition as a threat. However, the “Moneyball” approach suggests that competition can be leveraged strategically. By understanding the landscape, an artist can identify gaps and position themselves in a way that sets them apart from others. This requires a shift in mindset from seeing competition as purely threatening to viewing it as a source of potential opportunities.

B) The concept of finding and filling gaps could be stylistic, thematic, or based on audience demand. This includes knowing where listeners’ attention is, recognizing saturated markets, and identifying where the competition for attention is lesser. This game is not merely about song releases but also the strategic choices you make along their journey.

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